50 international groups organize support in the USA for the Raipur Satyagraha in India
Simultaneous protests held in 3 US cities
San Francisco, CA, New York, NY and Washington DC, 28 March, 2009:
Verve and vigor marked the simultaneous protests held at the Indian embassy and consulates in Washington DC, New York City and San Francisco on March 27th, demanding the immediate release of Dr. Binayak Sen, an end to the repressive Chhattisgarh Special People’s Security Act (CSPSA) and disbanding of the state-sponsored militia, Salwa Judum. Activists from Association for India’s Development (AID), Friends of South Asia (FOSA), South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI), International League of People’s Struggles, students and faculty from local universities participated in these protests, coinciding with the Raipur Satyagraha,
the ongoing mass civil disobedience action in the city of Raipur where Dr. Sen is incarcerated. Over 50 groups from the US, UK and Canada have written to the Chhattisgarh government and offered their support to the Raipur Satyagraha, and nearly 600 individual faxes have also been sent to the Chhattisgarh government from around the world.
The 22-month long, unjustifiable detention of Dr. Binayak Sen
has become a rallying point for human rights and peace and justice groups in India and internationally. A pediatrician by training who chose to work with the marginalized and malnourished people in remote villages of Chhattisgarh in central India, Dr. Binayak Sen has been recognized for his contributions to public health and human rights with the Paul Harrison award
by his alma mater, the Christian Medical College, Vellore, the R.R. Keithan gold medal
from the Indian Academy of Social Sciences, and the Jonathan Mann Award
by the Global Health Council in Washington DC. As Vice-president of People’s Union for Civil Liberties
(PUCL), Dr Binayak Sen was instrumental in bringing to light the excesses of the Chhattisgarh government’s security apparatus, notably the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored militia which has wreaked havoc in the villages of south Bastar district. Activists and intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, George Galloway, Mahashweta Devi, over 135 faculty members and 22 nobel laureates from around the world have joined in urging the Indian government to free Dr. Binayak Sen and stop the harassment of human rights activists.
Anu Mandavilli, with Friends of South Asia
(FOSA), reminded the protestors in San Francisco, that the one-year long trial of Dr. Sen, which included testimonies from over 50 government witnesses, has not produced a shred of evidence or a single witness who could corroborate the Government’s claim that Dr. Sen engaged in seditious activities. “Yet, the courts have denied Dr. Sen’s bail application three times. It is interesting to note that men from Shri Ram Sene, who beat up women in Mangalore pubs in front of cameras, were released on bail within 6 hours. Whereas Dr. Sen, with an impeccable 25-year record of public service, and no evidence against him, has been in jail for 22 months now.”
Angana Chatterji, associate professor, California Institute of Integral Studies, cited the harassment of other human rights defenders in Orissa and Kashmir, stating that Dr. Sen’s case represents an alarming trend where the Indian state is using draconian laws to silence those who oppose state repression. Indeed, Dr. Sen is only the most prominent among numerous human rights defenders and public intellectuals who languish in Indian jails because they dared to speak truth to power.
In New York, activists gathered outside the Indian consulate to read Dr. Sen’s New Year Letter from jail, recite poems from around the world in support of Dr. Sen, and sing songs of collective action. Jinee Lokaneeta of the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI), and on the faculty at Drew University, drew attention to the fact that notwithstanding the floundering case against Dr. Sen, the government has recently produced an additional supplementary chargesheet against him. “By repeatedly denying Dr. Sen’s bail application, and purposefully prolonging a meaningless trial, the state is ensuring that Dr. Sen stays in prison a long time, even if charges against him are never proved.”
Murli Natrajan, also of SASI and a faculty member at William Paterson University, added, “The laws used by the state to arrest Dr. Sen are truly draconian. These are the latest in the tradition of other harsh laws, such as MISA, TADA and POTA, each one of which had to be abandoned after being declared unconstitutional by the highest judicial authorities, and after gross misuse by the state’s security apparatus became apparent.”
Somu Kumar, with Association for India’s Development
(AID), and one of the organizers of the protest at the Indian embassy in Washington DC, highlighted that these protests are not limited to demanding the human rights of just one inidividual, Dr. Binayak Sen, but are in opposition to a system which criminalizes those who point out its shortcomings. “At this point, Dr. Sen is a symbol of many other ongoing struggles in India–especially those of the adivasis
, the indigenous inhabitants of the mineral rich areas, who are resisting displacement by large mining companies, and whose rights Dr. Sen was championing. These protests are also to demand consideration for the human rights of the adivasis
of Chhattisgarh, more than 100,000 of who are officially internally displaced people due to the actions of the state-sponsored Salwa Judum.”
A letter signed by more than 50 international peace and justice groups
, and a list of individuals who have faxed letters
to the Chhattisgarh and central governments, were submitted to the Indian consular staff at each city who have guaranteed their delivery to the desks of the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, the President and Prime Minister of India, and the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission. Some activists voiced their disappointment that the government of India had yet to acknowledge any of their previous submissions made over the course of the last year. “In spite of sending several hundred faxes, multiple letters, and individual emails to various officials, we have yet to hear back from a single government official that our letters have been received and read, leave alone considered,” said Srividhya Venkataraman, with AID-Berkeley. She added, “The Indian government has made it a priority to reach out to NRIs. But if we, with multiple channels of communication available to us, have such difficulty in getting our voice heard, how must the Indian government respond to the concerns of an adivasi
located in a remote village in Bastar!”
Is anyone listening?
For more information, see the following:
· Information on the Raipur Satyagraha for the Release of Dr. Binayak Sen is available here: http://raipursatyagraha.wordpress.com
· More information on Dr. Binayak Sen and his case:
o For a detailed analysis of the state’s case against Dr. Sen, read the 3-part series in Indian Express by Vinay Sitapati: http://www.binayaksen.net/2009/01/indian-express-series-on-binayak-sen/
o A timeline of Binayak Sen’s case is available here: http://www.binayaksen.net/2009/01/timeline-of-events-in-the-strange-case-of-dr-binayak-sen/
o A compilation of news articles on Dr. Sen can be found at www.binayaksen.net , www.freebinayaksen.org and http://www.aidboston.org/FreeBinayakSen/media.htm
· On Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005:
o The text of the law and its analysis by People’s Union for Democratic Rights can be found here: http://cpjc.wordpress.com/chhattisgarh-special-public-security-act/
o A law and its victim, Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, Frontline, Oct-Nov 2008 http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2522/stories/20081107252212400.htm
o Caught between Naxals and police, Indian Express, June 11, 2008 http://in.news.yahoo.com/indianexpress/20080611/r_t_ie_nl_general/tnl-caught-between-naxals-and-police-aaaedd4_1.html
· Fact-finding reports on Salwa Judum can be obtained from the website for the Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh, http://cpjc.wordpress.com/reports-by-fact-finding-teams-on-salwa-judum/
· Letter to the Chhattisgarh government by over 50 international peace and justice groups can be found here: http://docs.aidindia.org/Documents/AID-Chapters/Maryland/campaign/Binayak_Sen_Org_Endorsement.pdf
Photo Credits: Pei Wu, Sangay Mishra, Somu Kumar and Balaji Narasimhan
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